As we last discussed in May, President Obama has received a fair amount of criticism from the left about the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. The president vowed to close the prison, and though he’s had success reducing its population, the facility remains open.
That’s not for lack of presidential effort. Obama has tried, repeatedly, to pursue a policy that used to enjoy bipartisan support, but Congress – including members from both parties – has placed inflexible restrictions on the administration, preventing real progress. In other words, the president hasn’t closed the prison because lawmakers simply won’t let him.
The Wall Street Journal reported overnight that Obama isn’t done. On the contrary, he’s reportedly weighing a pretty bold move on executive power.
The White House is drafting options that would allow President Barack Obama to close the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by overriding a congressional ban on bringing detainees to the U.S., senior administration officials said.Such a move would be the latest and potentially most dramatic use of executive power by the president in his second term. It would likely provoke a sharp reaction from lawmakers, who have repeatedly barred the transfer of detainees to the U.S.
Let’s go ahead and acknowledge that “sharp reaction” is obviously an understatement. Congressional Republicans, often for reasons that don’t make a lot of sense, already like to characterize President Obama as an out-of-control tyrant, hell bent on destroying the government and creating a dictatorship.
If the president finds a way to keep his promise and closes Guantanamo despite Congress’ objections, it stands to reason GOP lawmakers would be apoplectic to an unseen degree.
White House officials know this. They’re considering their options anyway.
The obvious next question, of course, is how Obama would go about reaching his goal. From the WSJ piece:
White House officials have concluded Mr. Obama likely has two options for closing Guantanamo, should Congress extend the restrictions, which it could do after the midterm elections.He could veto the annual bill setting military policy, known as the National Defense Authorization Act, in which the ban on transferring detainees to the U.S. is written. While the veto wouldn’t directly affect military funding, such a high-stakes confrontation with Congress carries significant political risks.A second option would be for Mr. Obama to sign the bill while declaring restrictions on the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners an infringement of his powers as commander in chief, as he has done previously. Presidents of both parties have used such signing statements to clarify their understanding of legislative measures or put Congress on notice that they wouldn’t comply with provisions they consider infringements of executive power.
Congress first voted to keep Guantanamo open in 2010 – back when Democrats ran Congress, by the way – and that policy has been left in place since. As recently as six months ago, the House voted 247 to 177 against changing the policy.
In case anyone’s forgotten, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) reminded his colleagues earlier this year that the prison, a symbolic scourge around the world, is wildly expensive and entirely unnecessary since the existing federal prison system already houses plenty of terrorists. For now, Congress doesn’t much care, though the White House still cares deeply.
Watch this space.